Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0008958, Sun, 23 Nov 2003 13:32:38 -0800

Fw: Fw: the sterile inventions of Nabokov ...
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dane Gill" <pennyparkerpark@hotmail.com>
> ---------------- Message requiring your approval (396
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> Although this Peck fellow comes across as pretty harsh (sterile
> A little vague, not sure what he means exactly. I'm mostly refering to the
> rest of his reviews), VN was just a destructive when giving his literary
> opinions. One really needs to dig in order to find out what he liked
> compared to what he hated. And although VN did not give all his opiions in
> structured reviews it still gives the effect (what Nabokovian can ever
> at Mann, O'Neil, Orwell, etc seriously).
> Dane Gill
> >From: "D. Barton Johnson" <chtodel@cox.net>
> >Reply-To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
> >Subject: Fw: the sterile inventions of Nabokov ...
> >Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2003 09:57:22 -0800
> >
> >
> >----- Original Message -----
> >From: Sandy P. Klein
> >http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1091150,00.html
> >
> >
> >Hatchet man
> >
> >Dale Peck is the scourge of literary America, laying into everyone from
> >Julian Barnes to Don DeLillo. Is aggression a critical virtue, and should
> >British reviewers follow his lead?
> >
> >Kate Kellaway
> >Sunday November 23, 2003
> >The Observer
> >
> >There is a new verb in the US: to Peck. Or an old verb with a new
> >Dale Peck is a literary one man bandit - he trashes everything he reads.
> >this a dagger I see before me? Or a review by Dale Peck? He specialises
> >opening lines such as: 'Rick Moody is the worst writer of his
> >No one is let off lightly: Philip Roth, Julian Barnes, Jim Crace - name
> >author and they have all been Pecked. He has published three novels
> >and is ! hyperactively well read, with an eye for detail and a
> >personal agenda about what the contemporary novel ought to be (as close
> >his own as possible). In the US, his reviews have caused a sensation. And
> >in May, his collected criticism is to be published, on both sides of the
> >Atlantic, under the title Hatchet Jobs.
> >Reading his reviews, there is a sense that Peck's writing is motored by a
> >rage that has little to do with literature. There are clues in his
> >biography. He grew up on Long Island, the son of an alcoholic plumber.
> >mother died in mysterious circumstances when he was three and he has put
> >on record that 'violence' may have had something to do with it. When his
> >father discovered his son was gay, he beat him up. Peck's father is
> >important here, if only because his latest book is a 'memoir' about his
> >father's childhood (What We Lost, published in February by Granta).
> >
> >Dale Peck emerges as a fighter with the evangelical zeal of a Jehovah's
> >Witness for whom the End of the Novel is Nigh. He was educated at Drew
> >University in New Jersey and took a creative writing course at Columbia.
> >was talent-spotted as a critic by James Wood, who commissioned him to
> >in the back pages of the New Republic, back pages that were to make
> >front-page news.
> >
> >Peck's admirers value him because of the scale of his ambitions as a
> >critic. There is an almost suicidal valour about seeing off so many
> >with such assurance. And Peck is as scathing about the fiction of the
> >as he is of the present. The modernist tradition, he writes, 'began with
> >the diarrhoeic flow of words that is Ulysses, continued on through the
> >incomprehensible ramblings of late Faulkner and the sterile inventions of
> >Nabokov, and then burst into full, foul life in the ridiculous dithering
> >Barth, Hawkes and Gaddis, and the reductive cardboard constructions of
> >Barthelme, and the word-by-word wasting of a talent as formidable as
> >Pynchon's; and finally broke apart like a cracked sidewalk beneath the
> >weight of the stupid - just plain stupid - tomes of DeLillo'. In a single
> >sentence: class dismissed.
> >
> >When I spoke to Peck in New York, he struck me as at once bellicose and
> >vulnerable. He talks fast and breathlessly, as if still winded by the
> >dealt him by modern writers. You might reasonably object that to stick
> >head above the parapet is not brave, merely a way of achieving
> >But I warmed to him. He has no sense of self-preservation. 'I write for
> >writers and I just want to say to them: wake up! It is a dream of mine
> >they will.' When I ask whether he wouldn't rather use something more
> >delicate than a hatchet, he says he doesn't see it as a clumsy
instrument -
> >no weapon is too sharp to carve up the modern novel, which he sees as 'a
> >reactionary force in aesthetic terms, irrelevant in cultural terms'.
> >
> >He goes on: 'Novels and memoirs are on a wrong course. They are either
> >inward-gazing, solipsistic and impotent or unconscious and rarefied,
> >written by recidivist realists who pretend the twentieth century didn't
> >happen.' A critic, he says 'must tell the truth. If something makes you
> >hopping mad, you must be allowed to express it'. But if he dislikes
> >everything he reads, why read at all? Who does he like? Early Philip Roth
> >and Virginia Woolf (strange bedfellows) miss the chop. So do Joan Didion
> >and Toni Morrison. Though, he hastens to add, 'they all have their
> >problems'.
> >
> >When I ask him to characterise the US reviewing scene, he cheers up: 'I
> >not sure if you can print this. But they are a bunch of pussies. They are
> >back-scratchers, afraid for their own careers - novelists reviewing their
> >friends' works. It is very dishonest.' Does he ever worry about the
> >his reviews may have on writers? 'The truth is that if you can't hack a
> >negative review, you shouldn't be writing at that particular level. I
> >really do believe a novel is nothing more than a strongly expressed
> >and that you need to respond strongly and with vitality.'
> >
> >Peck is the eye - or I - of the storm and has placed himself at the top
> >his own Pecking order. He has even gone so far as to say that critics who
> >maintain an 'ironic, impotent distance' are 'teaching people not to read
> >books like mine'. But in his own career, the hatchet has proved mightier
> >than the pen. His own novels have been quietly approved but have not made
> >his name. Should we care about him at all?
> >
> >If Peck were British, according to the American commentary, his punishing
> >excesses would be greeted with a shrug. The received wisdom on the other
> >side of the Atlantic is that we live tolerantly in a critical snakepit.
> >is this true? Who are the English Dale Pecks? Is there anyone with his
> >chutzpah? And if we can identify our hatchet men, do we admire them? How
> >much are hatchet men victims of their own temperaments (think of Dale
> >Peck's rage)? And the ultimate question - what are the ethics of
> >in this country?
> >
> >'Critic' has always been a dirty word. Samuel Beckett, in Waiting for
> >Godot, used it as the climax to a list of insults: vermin - abortion -
> >sewer-rat - curate - cretin... Of these, CRRITIC (the double R spells
> >trouble) was the worst. Christopher Hampton refines the point by saying
> >that to ask a working writer what he thinks of a critic is like asking a
> >dog what it thinks of a lamppost. But a good critic must expect to be
> >unpopular. And be ready to annoy by keeping his horizons wide. Kenneth
> >Tynan put it like this: 'A good drama critic is one who perceives what is
> >happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives
> >what is not happening.' Peck would approve the definition.
> >
> >Everyone agrees that bad reviews are more memorable than good. If
> >writes white, enthusiasm often registers in shades of pastel. Tibor
> >specialises in shocking pink. His review of Martin Amis's last novel
> >likened it to seeing 'your favourite uncle being caught in a school
> >playground, masturbating'. And Julie Burchill, reviewing Helen Fielding's
> >career as well as her novel, wrote: 'When she made it big, it was a bit
> >like realising that your hamster had escaped from its cage - and then you
> >turn on the TV and it's making a speech to the world from the Oval
> >because it's become President of the United States.'
> >
> >Burchill's review appeared in the London Evening Standard, where David
> >Sexton, its literary editor, has always had hatchet-man potential. I
> >met him when I was working for the Literary Review, edited by Auberon
> >Waugh. Waugh's critical 'ethics' included admitting that if he had not
> >a book, he always gave it a positive notice. Perhaps this accounts for
> >much-used phrase: 'She writes like an angel.'
> >
> >At that time, Sexton was more interested in felling angels. He wrote a
> >review of a Margaret Drabble novel so cruelly entertaining and personal
> >that I couldn't read it without worrying about her having to suffer it
> >a long, poisonous breakfast.
> >
> >Sexton believes there is no ethical problem about such reviews. Reviews
> >for readers, he says. He thinks it is bordering on immoral to have the
> >author's feelings in mind at all. 'It is a wrong thing to do.' James Wood
> >used to say he saw his reviews as letters to authors, but Sexton believes
> >this is 'completely wrong'. Nor does he buy into the notion that the
> >English critical scene is a snakepit. He sees it as 'massively
> >over-favourable and collusive. There is a pretence now that every book is
> >new sensation.'
> >
> >He believes there should be far more negative reviews than there are. He
> >can't think of anything that is 'below the belt. Once a creative work is
> >out in the world, it is in play.' Criticism is not doorstepping, he adds.

> >And yet he makes reviewing sound a drably self- interested affair in
> >reviewers are keen only to hear the sound of their own voices. 'There is
> >such thing as a disinterested reviewer,' he maintains.
> >
> >Sexton does not admire Peck and his 'scatter-gun' approach, but he can
> >readily nominate a trio who are masters of the hatchet job. First
> >contender: Eric Griffiths, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who
> >recently damned books by Roger Scruton and Terry Eagleton in the Times
> >Literary Supplement. In these pieces, wit and erudition work to
> >effect. Even his lightest points have a darker purpose: 'Eagleton
> >specialises in quick-fire summary of issues and thinkers; he is a
> >pith-artist.'
> >
> >Griffiths was particularly contrite about the Scruton piece, telling me
> >that Scruton had been his teacher in his third year at Cambridge and that
> >he has 'vivid and delightful memories' of those occasions. He said the
> >review was a 'duty'. He went on: 'It is a real pity that argued dissent
> >regularly caricatured as "hatchet job", "savage attack" and other such
> >bulking agents. We pass legislation to encourage whistle-blowing and at
> >same time a culture is promoted which portrays whistle-blowing about any
> >intellectual matters as usually an act of pathological spite. In a world
> >perilously muddled by expertise in its many forms, it seems a pity that
> >there isn't a calmer climate of more precisely informed comment on
> >evidence.
> >
> >'What I feel about the authors of pretentious and misleading books is
> >expressed by the fact that Dante put the fraudulent below adulterers,
> >gluttons, bad-tempered gits, suicides, sodomites, hypocrites, heretics
> >other riff-raff in his sketch of hell. But really I am of a sunny
> >disposition and much prefer to write and talk about books I admire. I
> >my working life doing so. Reviewing is what happens when criticism goes
> >holiday.' And with that, Griffiths returned to enjoy the summer weather
> >academe.
> >
> >Adam Mars-Jones, novelist, critic (and second contender) feels that
> >negative reviewing must not sound too dutiful. He thinks 'destructive
> >criticism is legitimate as long as it isn't unmodulated'. Of Peck's
> >of Rick Moody he observes: 'There is something comic about someone taking
> >4,000 seething words to attack the bloated emptiness of contemporary
> >culture.' Unlike Griffiths, who aims at objectivity in his criticism and
> >prefers not to use what he describes as the 'pitiable resource' of his
> >feelings, Mars-Jones relaxedly admits to the subjectivity of literary
> >taste. Criticism, he says, is 'not about authority. I am not paid to be
> >right. I am paid to make a case.'
> >
> >It is essential that critics should retain an energy about their work,
> >excitement and expectation. Mars-Jones remembers how, at film screenings,
> >critic Alexander Walker used to give 'a little acidulated sigh as he sat
> >down as if to ask: how will my intelligence be insulted this week?'
> >
> >Philip Hensher (third nominee), novelist, columnist and critic, may be
> >found in Believer magazine (published in the US and edited by Dave
> >wife, Vendela Vida) in a column entitled 'Snarkwatch', which names and
> >shames reviewers. Hensher has been described in the column as 'the
> >snark this side of the water' and ticked off for describing Tracey Emin
> >'too stupid' to produce meaningful art.
> >
> >But Hensher is a 'snark' with standards. 'I try not to review a book by
> >anyone if they've ever given me a bad review,' he says, 'and would be
> >likely to review one if its author had given me any kind of review. It
> >isn't fair to let people think that there may be more complicated motives
> >behind your review than would ever, in my case, exist.' He finds it 'as
> >infuriating to get a rave review as a return-of-favour as to get a
> >job from someone with a reason to dislike you personally'.
> >
> >He believes: 'It is deeply improper to speculate on an author's
> >or private life.' He was outraged by a review of his short stories in
> >the reviewer explained that he needed to have experienced 'more misery'.
> >And the reviews of Martin Amis's novel have shocked him, too: 'They have
> >really been about him. I think that is disgraceful and on the increase.'
> >
> >In his autobiography, Experience, Amis berates himself for wielding the
> >hatchet as a young man. But critical hatchets are seldom lethal. Keats
> >devastated when critics of Endymion described him as a 'piss-a-bed' but
> >went on writing. Byron said he did not think 'the mind, that fiery
> >particle/ could be snuffed out by an article'. But Sarah Kane was
> >by the panning of her first play, Blasted, and although critics were not
> >responsible for her suicide, there was much critical remorse in the wake
> >it.
> >
> >Writers can become obsessed by bad reviews. I saw Jonathan Raban
> >remonstrate with Sebastian Faulks about a negative review the latter had
> >written. Raban's opening remark was: 'I have nightmares about you.'
> >
> >Perhaps it would be best if critics and their subjects never met.
> >Mars-Jones recalls travelling on a number 19 bus and seeing Anita
> >travelling alongside him. He had just reviewed one of her novels. She was
> >sitting there 'in kid gloves, her fists tight'. To her, he was invisible.
> >He wondered how it might be were he to tap her on the shoulder,
> >himself as the critic whose review in no way resembled her gloves. He had
> >described her novel as like 'taking an ice-cold bubble bath'.
> >
> >Readers divide into those who enjoy criticism that heaves its subject
> >theatre and operates without anaesthetic and those who don't. Critics
> >between those who find writing negatively easiest and those who don't. I
> >told the axeman that I find negative criticism a chore to write - I'm
> >by work I have not enjoyed and find it hard to persevere with it. And I
> >seldom find negative reviews a pleasure to read, either. Worse even than
> >what I call 'professional enthusiasm' (the gush of PR) are pieces written
> >with contempt. The pleasure evident in demolition work is alien and
> >unsavoury, too.
> >
> >Novelist and critic Ali Smith agrees (she is certainly not eligible for
> >Order of the Axe). She deplores the way that criticism has become
> >'personality-driven' and would like a return to the days when critics
> >about ideas and put work in context.
> >
> >Hermione Lee, an English don at New College, Oxford, is a generous,
> >well-informed critic who thinks we have 'a culture of attack in which
> >people make their name by ferocious reviewing'. She doesn't altogether
> >disapprove. Like Smith, she does not care for personality pieces and does
> >not want her own reviews to be 'about me'. But she thinks it is good to
> >have 'a young Turk like Dale Peck toppling LLLs [living literary
> >She admits that writing negatively can be like having a good 'meat
meal' -
> >a steak, she volunteers. But she noted that it tends to be a young man's
> >thing. Or, at least, a young thing. She wrote her harshest reviews in her
> >twenties. Now she is more reluctant to 'throw five years of work away in
> >500 words'. She prefers to 'tune in' to an author rather than have a
> >'stand-off'. She wonders whether there is a gender divide. Certainly, her
> >image of what a good review should be is inadvertently feminine - the
> >opposite of a hatchet. Reviewing, she says, sho! uld be 'transparent,
> >a veil you can see through'.
> >
> >Hatchet men in the States, Peck included, have more influence than they
> >here. American theatre critics have the power to shut down shows. This is
> >in marked contrast to our situation, where some work is critic-proof.
> >the Rod Stewart musical Tonight's the Night. The critics detest it but it
> >will still be a hit. Simon Edge, on the Express, had his piece pulled
> >because it was insufficiently positive. It was rewritten by a secretary
> >the desk. How is that for respecting a critic?
> >
> >It is often said that critics should not dare to criticise unless they
> >creative themselves. But Peck's criticism is, it seems, warped by his
> >ambition as a novelist. And Hensher maintains that being a novelist can
> >distort your take on other novelists. Meanwhile, Michael Billington
> >that there is nothing second-rate about being a critic - and that it is
> >better to be a first-rate critic (not that he is flattering himself, he
> >adds) than being a 'rotten playwright'.
> >
> >Billington was not among the four critics who got the chance to try their
> >hand at writing plays last week at the Soho Theatre. Dominic Cavendish,
> >Rachel Halliburton, Jeremy Kingston and Patrick Marmion each wrote a
> >10-minute play (during a one-day workshop) and the results were directed
> >Abigail Morris and performed in front of an audience. The plays turned
> >to be disturbingly (depending upon your point of view) competent. The
> >critics revealed - with the exception of Jeremy Kingston (whose play was
> >gently horticultural) - violent imaginations.
> >
> >Rachel Halliburton was relieved that it was not a 'shaming session'.
> >Critics, she suggests, tend to be perceived as 'artistic eunuchs'. But
> >one of them felt the experience would feed their criticism, or that they
> >would become kinder as a result of it. At the end of the evening, one of
> >the actors offered them his review. It was the last word in deflation:
> >'Darlings, you were wonderful,' he said.
> >
> >They were all, as Marmion put it, 'up for pillorying' for a reason: they
> >believe critics are neither visible or answerable enough in this country
> >and, to prove it, Cavendish has launched a combative new website
> >(www.theatrevoice.com) where critics can, at last, be criticised.
> >
> >Dale Peck's problem is that he is not being criticised enough. What We
> >is just out in the States and, he confided, 'nobody is writing about it.
> >three novels were extensively reviewed. People may be afraid. Or maybe
> >are not interested, think I have fallen off the map. Or perhaps it is
> >payback time.'
> >
> >In fact, the book has had one review, by Andrew O'Hagan in the New York
> >Times, which Peck describes as 'the most condescending, homophobic thing
> >have ever read. It suggests that the book is all about masculinity and
> >points out that because I am gay I will never have children. Dislike the
> >actual book, but don't make comments about my own life!'
> >
> >He sounds, suddenly, like a little boy. And he tells me a story. When he
> >was a student, he wrote a book review of Saul Bellow's Herzog. 'I had
> >come out and was acutely sensitive. I identified 17 references to
> >homosexuals, all of them negative and stereotypical.' It was his first
> >hatchet job. And what did his tutor say? 'She said, "Dale, you are an
> >amazing critic. Write about the things you love."' He adds: 'And I want
> >tell her, 15 years later, that I have finally learnt this lesson.'
> >
> >Who are the critics' critics?
> >
> >Mark Lawson, broadcaster and critic
> >Adam Mars-Jones is the best critic around. I think critics need values
> >standards but shouldn't be unshakeable. They should recognise a good work
> >by someone they don't respect and a bad work by someone they do.
> >
> >Norman Lebrecht, arts columnist
> >We lost two of the best this year, Alexander Walker and Harold
> >the music critic of the New York Times. They were paragons of critical
> >independence, stubborn-mindedness and above all curiosity.
> >
> >Michael Billington, theatre critic
> >Kenneth Tynan was the role model for my generation of critics. He set the
> >standard with impeccable writing. Film critic Pauline Kael always struck
> >as the most knowledgeable voice of her generation.
> >
> >Philip French, film critic
> >The critic who worked during my lifetime that I most admire is Edmund
> >Wilson, arguably the greatest man of letters of the twentieth century. I
> >read every word Pauline Kael wrote for the New Yorker, enjoying
> >with her and often being driven mad by her.
> >
> >Charles Shaar Murray, music critic
> >The three people in my field I admire are Greil Marcus, Jon Savage and
> >late Ian Macdonald. Each one had the capacity to make me reassess
> >about which I already had an opinion.
> >
> >Jim Shelley, television critic
> >Apart from Nancy Banks-Smith, I don't really read any TV critics. The
> >TV critic who ever makes me think 'I wish I'd thought of that' is A.A.
> >- so for that reason alone I deliberately never read him.
> >
> >╥ Interviews by Akin Omuju
> >
> >╥ Hatchet Jobs will be published in May by the New Press, ё14.95
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >Share holiday photos without swamping your Inbox. Get MSN Extra Storage
> >now!
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